Artisan du Chocolat: less spin, more flexibility please

I had intended to review some of the chocolates from the British chocolatier Artisan du Chocolat, as I was in London recently and had previously enjoyed (and written about) them after a visit in 2007. Some businesses in high-end food succeed in respecting customers, others choose to be rigid and deliberately unhelpful. Artisan du Chocolat seems on the face of it to fall into a more positive category, but on this visit I was disappointed.

Unable to make it to their Chelsea shop, I visited the outlet in Selfridges department store. Artisan du Chocolat staff are refreshingly generous with samples when a customer is exploring what to purchase (the range is large and the flavours are at times very interesting). My first sample was, I believe, a jasmine tea chocolate. Alas I found the flavour to be on the barely-present side of fleeting and I mentioned that the flavour was too mild for me. I was disappointed to receive in reply a vacuous “We only use natural ingredients, so the flavours are often very subtle.” I really loathe this sort of rubbish. Don’t take customers for idiots. I work with natural ingredients too and my palate is pretty good. While some aromas can be difficult to capture and preserve, a customer has good reason to expect a flavour label to correspond to an olfactory experience upon tasting a product.

I was polite in my disagreement and the assistant was helpful enough to tip me off (without prompting) about which flavours I should best avoid for their “subtlety”. Good.

And so it became time to make a selection for purchase. The chocolates are sold by weight, but can be packaged in fixed-weight boxes or in cellophane bags. I wanted a 200gm box to house my chosen chocolates (especially as I was travelling) and suddenly there was a problem. One product group in the company’s range is dusted in cocoa. I wasn’t allowed to have the cocoa-coated chocolates in the same box as the other products. Wasn’t allowed. They all cost the same by weight. They all fit in the box.

I asked why this wasn’t allowed. “The cocoa would get on the other items.” I explained that this didn’t concern me, but no, they couldn’t be combined. I suggested putting in a paper divider. No. My irritation began to show and the manager was consulted for a second opinion about whether I could have my box of chocolates. No. The other chocolates might get dirty. Gotta love this sort of ignore-the-customer’s-desire approach. Why couldn’t they just insert a piece of paper or wrap the cocoa coated chocolates in some way? “It’s company policy.” So the company doesn’t want me to risk dirtying the chocolates I wish to consume? “It’s company policy.” You’re afraid I’ll complain to someone about the cocoa on the non-dusted chocolates if they happen to rub together? Afraid I’ll come back and complain? “Sorry, sir.”

I don’t actually know why I proceeded to spend my money there. I guess the desire to try some new product briefly blinded me to just how bloody idiotic “company policy” and half-truths are. Unsurprisingly, the chocolates, in separate cellophane packages, didn’t survive travel well. Money ill spent. Thank you so much, Artisan du Chocolat. I now look forward to two weeks with Paris chocolatiers before flying home. At least in Paris I know which shops are relaxed and helpful and which are rigid or haughty, rather than having to navigate this British middle-road of spin answers and “company policy”.

9 thoughts on “Artisan du Chocolat: less spin, more flexibility please”

  1. The other chocolates might get dirty.. hahaha! What a frustrating experience! I still recall a chocolate shop I visited in London, that felt so intimidating. Was it La Maison? Anyway, how ridiculous, to be made to feel intimidated, …in a chocolate shop, for goodness sake!

  2. Ah, gotta love a good dust-up in a chocolate shop.

    So they didn’t want to get chocolate on their chocolates? Interesting concept.

  3. but in other way, it shows they really care about the chocolates they selling .;-p

  4. So a little cocoa dust might get on the other chocolates? That are, presumably, also made with cocoa? Hm… An interesting problem.

    Fingers crossed you have a happier time in Paris.

  5. I’m perplexed and frustrated and I wasn’t there. Just reading about it, and not getting a satisfactory answer via this blog is making me annoyed! Ironic that our supermarket staff manage time and again to package laundry powders and soaps right next to my eggs. Is there not some happy medium?

    So, is the chocolate that is less subtly flavoured any good? One hopes the items you bought complimented each other, though I suspect company policy instructed you to completely rinse your mouth with lemon-spritzed water before sampling the next morsel?

  6. One of those interesting arguments Duncan. On one hand, the customer should be able to get what they want. But on the other, the seller wants to retain the integrity of their product.

    It reminds me of this story about an iced espresso incident that was all over the internet and NY Times even.

    And the response from the coffee shop about the incident.

    The response from the coffee shop owner has some points as well. If a shop had a policy of no sleeping in the shop, people would accept that. But if they also had another policy that you couldn’t put ice in an espresso, technically that’s no different but yet people want to challenge that.

    I too would have gotten angry in your situation Duncan as I would see it as such a simple request, especially if I was willing to suffer the consequences. I’m not sure what the shop gains from enforcing that policy, but they must have their reasons.

    Could you have just purchase the cocoa dusted ones separately and then put them in the box yourself anyway?

  7. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. There has been a generous gesture from the company and they are sending me replacement chocolates.

    @Coby: the chocolate and ganaches are good, but fleeting flavours just spoil the expectation, in my opinion.

    @Thanh: oh there are always questions about boundaries and entitlement as a customer, and I’ve seen more than enough cases of customers pushing the boundaries unreasonably. However, this was a case of the packaging being presented as an option for all chocolates, then modified when the customer tried to avail himself of the option. It’s also the case that one of the company’s very large tasting boxes does combine the cocoa-dusted chocolated, using a simple ?cardboard divider. It wasn’t possible to buy the desired box empty and fill it oneself, nor was it permitted to enclose a bag of the cocoa-dusted ones in, say, cellophane.

    The company representative has said that they are grateful for the feedback about packaging and hope to offer more flexible options in the future.

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